Watching more TV than ever? Here are 5 shows worth your time this week
One of the central functions of television journalists — editors, critics and reporters alike — is to sift through the seemingly infinite options now available to viewers through broadcast, cable, streaming and video-on-demand options. And as silly as it may sound, that function is more important than ever, thanks to the inauspicious confluence of a global pandemic and “peak TV.”
To this end, we’ve already collected recommendations for sports-themed shows that will tide you over until the return of live sports and animated series for when you’re missing life before quarantine among other helpful guides. But the TV team here at The Times knows there are viewing options for any and every mood, so we’ve also launched this weekly recommendation engine — one based on what we’re watching ourselves. Think of it as your work-from-home water cooler, where we bring the water cooler to you.
The Times TV team recommends the five TV shows we’re watching this week — and that you should be watching too.
“One Day at a Time”
Available on: Pop TV, Netflix (previous seasons)
Not even a dollop of Vick’s VapoRub, the go-to cure-all for many Latinos, could be as soothing to the soul as a dose of matriarch Lydia Alvarez from this reboot of the classic ’80s family sitcom. The series returned for its fourth season on its new home network last month, a year after getting canceled by Netflix. For the uninitiated, the updated version centers on the Alvarez family: Penelope (Justina Machado), a war veteran and single mother of two teenage children, Elena (Isabella Gomez) and Alex (Marcel Ruiz); and Penelope’s meddling mother, Lydia (Rita Moreno), who lives with them. Then there’s Schneider (Todd Grinnell), the privileged but lovable honorary member of the family. Despite having to shave off roughly 10 minutes of run time because of ad breaks, the series, which airs Tuesdays, hasn’t lost its charm and ability to entertain while exploring relatable topics — last week’s episode managed to find a clever way into a mother-son discussion on masturbation. It may start some interesting and important discussions during family viewing time.
Available on: Netflix
I’ve written about about my love for “Grand Designs” before, but there is something especially soothing about the show in this insane moment, when my attention span is fried and I want to be told a complete story in the space of an hour. Some people turn to “Law & Order” for this kind of thing; I turn to “Grand Designs,” which I first discovered via sketchy YouTube accounts, but is now available (in small batches) on Netflix. One of the most popular and longest-running property shows in Britain, “Grand Designs” is hosted by the endearingly pretentious Kevin McCloud, a man with a dazzling outerwear collection and strong feelings about design. Each episode follows a unique home-build or renovation from start to finish — however long that might take, whether a few months or many years (usually more the latter). There are no prizes to be won, only a journey to be followed, and plenty of drama along the way. Plus, McCloud is never afraid to ask delicate questions about budgets or dubious design choices. If you find home renovation and British accents soothing, then this is your show.
Available on: HBO
Merritt Wever and Domhnall Gleeson play former college lovers who, triggering an old pact in overlapping moments of crisis, find themselves running away together, and less together, from their lives. Their trajectory and conveyance, west by train from New York through Chicago, for a time recall “North by Northwest,” through a filter of “Before Sunrise,” before the relationship comedy gives way to something darker and the engine takes a turn toward “Fargo.” Whether this is a turn for the better or worse, I can’t say — concluding episodes not being available for review. But in the meantime there’s much to enjoy as the green-screen scenery rushes by and Wever — rueful, fretful, angry, teasing, excited and sexy by turns — cements her reputation as an actor always worth watching. Created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge collaborator Vicky Jones; Waller-Bridge, an executive producer, also appears, as do Archie Panjabi and Rich Sommer.
Available on: CBS All Access
Remember the good ol’ days, when it seemed like fun to stay in the house for long periods without going anywhere? When it was actually entertaining to watch a group of strangers stuck together in a house, removed from the outside world? Revisiting the popular reality series “Big Brother,” about a group of contestants isolated for a whole summer inside a custom-made home, seems both surreal and twisted during the COVID-19 pandemic‘s “stay at home” mandate. The circumstances are a bit different, of course: The participants were competing for a $500,000 prize if they could be the last house guest to survive the summer.
But unlike us, the “Big Brother” folks were totally cut off — no social media, no Zoom, no cellphones, no TV, no takeout or delivery. And, for the most part, the contestants didn’t seem to mind it much. Silly competitions, “showmances” and plotting against each other kept them occupied. Given the current crisis, it’s hard to imagine a new season of “Big Brother” this summer: Being stuck in a house after being stuck in a house, even for money, doesn’t seem like such an attractive proposition. (We’ll especially miss host Julie Chen Moonves, otherwise known as “The Chenbot.”) Still, past seasons have enough guilty pleasures to provide some mild diversion — and you don’t have to wear a mask while watching.
“Dead to Me”
Available on: Netflix
Grief, anger and wicked humor drive 2019’s dark, fast-paced comedy “Dead to Me,” a Netflix whodunit that reveals who did it midway through its wonderfully twist-filled plot. No matter. Protagonist Jen (Christina Applegate) has no idea, and it’s her quest to find the hit-and-run driver who killed her husband that makes this crazy tale of half-truths wrapped inside big secrets a blast to watch. The multiple detours between Jen and the facts keep viewers on their toes, as does the introduction of a new friend into her otherwise upscale life. Potential grifter Judy (Linda Cardellini) arrived a stranger, but she knows more about the widow-making event than anyone. Danger ahead. “Dead to Me” is cheeky, bold and portrays the depths of female rage in a brave new light. Bonus: Season 2 arrives May 8, just in time for more curve-flattening couch time.
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